Letter from the Social Media Editor: Social media can't handle complex news


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The Independent Online


Social media can strip news of nuance. Twitter and Facebook are fantastic for breaking stories, making jokes and stretching headline writers, but they maul complicated current affairs. Online, we communicate in aphorisms, short bursts of feeling prompted by humour and outrage which move us all like a Mexican Wave, obscuring deeper issues.

You can see it now in the way social media is “discussing” Iraq. Tony Blair’s name marched into the fray to the Twitter equivalent of the Darth Vader theme tune at the weekend, and has dominated discussions since. We’ve got so hooked on blaming Blair that analysis is overshadowed by outrage.

A similar phenomenon is happening with Scottish independence. Bile and vitriol have replaced rational discussion. The situation is complex, filled with what-ifs, historic pain, and us vs them rhetoric. It’s easier to just insult everyone. JK Rowling said some of the independence campaigners used language that was a little “death eaterish”. Yet I watched the torrent of abuse that followed her announcement and I don’t remember Voldemort’s supporters swearing so much.

Malice spreads quickly and viciously online. EndFather’sDay was a hashtag campaign engineered to malign feminists by pretending that a group of women wanted to stop the patriarchy by banning Father’s day. It was ridiculous, but rivers of outrage continued to pour down timelines blurring our understanding.

Sometimes in our social media addiction, we ignore the negative ways Twitter can influence discourse. Social media is a privilege. Let’s all think before we tweet.